Designer Billy Boy, Barbie Make a Tour of the U.S.

Billy Boy, the hotshot new jewelry designer on the international scene, exudes giddy enthusiasm whenever he speaks of his favorite girl. Her name is Barbie. She was born in 1959, just one year before him, and she’s plastic from head to toe. But she has a lot of style.

As the New York-born, Paris-based Boy puts it, “Barbie is groovy. She is sheer glamour. I just goof out whenever I dress her up.”

And he’s been dressing her up a lot--since he was 12 years old, he says. In fact, he’s followed her through her various careers as registered nurse, fashion editor, astronaut and gold-medal athlete, amassing a 10,000-doll collection of Barbies in the process.

Underwriting the Event


Recently, Boy flew to the West Coast to meet Barbie’s parent, Mattel Toys. They are underwriting the event that Boy promises will be “too cool for words.”

It’s a U.S. tour of 800 of his Barbies, all dressed to the teeth by such world-class designers as Yves Saint Laurent, Bill Blass, Madame Gres, Thierry Mugler, Perry Ellis and Sonia Rykiel.

The 10-city tour, which begins in February and ends in Los Angeles in May, will presumably be as popular in America as it was last year in Europe, when 50,000 viewers in Paris alone lined up to see Barbie at her best.

Sitting cross-legged on a sofa in his sunny suite at the Chateau Marmont hotel last week, the lanky six-footer wore his ever-present black Wayfarer sunglasses and his Doris Day hair in disarray.


Dressed in a ‘60s Nehru shirt and shiny green paisley trousers to match, he rattled on about his love affair with Barbie, his jewelry designs and his visit to the Hanna-Barbera studios earlier in the day.

“I can die happy now,” he exclaimed.

Boy is “crazy about” the Flintstones and the Jetsons and is an avid collector of toys based on characters from those cartoons. Fred and Wilma and George and Jane all share his Paris digs with Barbie.

“I love Hanna-Barbera,” Boy squealed. “It is so ingenious. I think it might be the center of the universe. I’m sure God lives there!”

Given to hyperbole, Billy Boy is a connoisseur of the fashionable as well as the frivolous. Endowed with a Looney Tunes sensibility and a tongue-in-chic wit, he offers up candy-coated interpretations of real life with a twist of lemon and a sardonic smile. As silly as he sometimes seems, there is a certain creative logic to his thinking.

“To me, Barbie is a wonderful educational tool. She’s been a great role model. So many girls have learned to dress from her. She mirrors the American ideal of beauty and the beauty of fashion. She is a fantasy and a symbol. She represents the purity of fashion’s spirit without the hype, the backbiting and the cynicism. The clothes in the show depict a world of different tastes and styles. By exhibiting them, we are not only showing the history of Barbie but the history of fashion for the past 50 years.”

Her No. 1 Fan

Barbie’s No. 1 fan has amassed a few thousand fans of his own. His jewelry designs, which were essential items for many in the social set last year, are worn by women like Lauren Hutton, Jacqueline Onassis, Bianca Jagger and Monique Van Vooren. They are made of plaster, inlaid with stones, often painted pastel shades or brushed with gold leaf. They can resemble stone, enamel, wood or even papier-mache. Some look like cookies, decorated and lacquered by children in an arts-and-crafts class.


Others are primitive dragon necklaces or vampire-bat belts “with teeth” or pins that are visual puns with names such as “Potted Devil’s Tail” and “Hearts With Attitude.” Priced from $300 to $900, Boy’s jewelry will soon be available here at I. Magnin.

“It’s just fun stuff,” he explains, “something to stick on while roller-skating around the block.”

Billy Boy got hooked on designing jewelry about the same time he fell for Barbie, he says.

“When she came into my life wearing a little black cocktail dress and stiletto heels, she looked so much like my aunts and my grandmother that I thought she was a doll made just for me.”

An adopted child whose wealthy Staten Island parents carted him around the world, Boy always preferred traveling inside his head. After buying Barbie dolls for a couple of years, he began buying up designer gowns at flea markets and vintage clothing stores. “In the ‘70s you could buy dresses from the 1940s or 1950s for $5 or less.”

As the gowns piled up--he now owns 10,000 of them--Billy Boy began thinking about designing his own. Although still just a teen-ager, he trekked to New York and started designing jewelry and dresses under his own label.

While he admits that Boy is not really his surname, he insists it is legitimate because it was his nickname as a child. Three years ago, at 22, Boy packed up his Barbie dolls and his Chanels, Lanvins, Patous and Balenciagas and moved to Paris. His devotion to haute couture and the mounting of a Schiaparelli retrospective utilizing 2,500 of his vintage gowns, soon had him rubbing elbows with the creme de la creme of fashion.

When he asked them to design clothes for the European Barbie doll tour, sponsored by the French affiliate of Mattel, most found the notion of working in miniature too amusing to resist.


A Mini-Retrospective

Saint Laurent conjured up a mini-retrospective for Barbie of his most famous designs. Jacqueline de Ribes contributed an evening gown that was black-and-white, while Guy Laroche turned out a Barbie bride. Pierre Balmain did a cocktail dress, Frederic Castet came up with a red mink with a matching hat, and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac whipped up a double poncho. American designers have shown enthusiasm to match.

Boy also recruited Los Angeles jewelry designer Lee Brevard, who used real gemstones on the beaded dress he made for Barbie, and fabric designer Euva Anderson, who took Barbie for a walk on the wild side with her Lurex animal prints.

The tour aside, Boy’s pet project is the creation of the second Billy Boy Barbie, to debut in 1987. The first, wearing wraparound sunglasses and a slinky black dress, took her bow in Europe last year and quickly became a cult item. Designed to resemble his best friend, Bettina Graziani, a well-known model during the ‘50s, Boy proudly points out that his version of Barbie is the very first designer doll, and the only one to come in a black box.

“She’s grooved out; she’s too cool! She’s yabba-dabba-doo!”